And so “Re-make,” one of two commissioned works in Chunky Move’s ninth Next Move performance season, began with Juliet Burnett repeating the same steps over and over, returning to the same marker. “The stage sets collapse[d]…. and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday and Sunday [operated] according to the same rhythm,”[note]Camus, Notebooks 1942–1951 (New York: Marlowe, 1995), 12[/note] but as they did, the steps slowly changed. This is growth and reinvention through repetition.
In “Re-make,” references to Greek Mythology and Camus's philosophy of the absurd, to the eternal labours of Sisyphus and his boulder, abound. And Burnett is stronger than her rock and the likelihood of hearing her effort is zero. At best, you will see a circle of sweat at her armpits and in the small of her back grow in size. And in her descent, she will turn into a bird; a silver-winged Phoenix, with a guitar plectrum for a beak and red heeled talons. This work may be the result of a conversation with choreographer and performer, Melanie Lane, but I cannot help read it as a portrait of Burnett’s own artistic career as she finds her true creative voice. This is “a solo for two.”[note]Lane, Re-make artists statement, Next Move programme, 2016[/note]
Burnett recently left the Australian Ballet, where she rose to the ranks of senior artist. She has since become a freelance guest artist appearing in the first Indonesian Ballet Gala (dancing the “Giselle” pas de deux with West Australian Ballet's Christopher Hill) and created a dance film installation, Letting Blood, for this year’s Dark MOFO festival (in collaboration with Nicholas Robert Thayer and and Gabrielle Adamidis). It appeared to me that she was searching for the next outlet for her talent. One that would let her explore contemporary dance and unique choreography, while still wearing pointe shoes. Or not. One that is true to her definition of art. The two, contemporary and classical, need not be mutually exclusive as this piece,“Re-make” demonstrated; pointe shoes can be worn in the Chunky Move studios in Southbank after all. This is Burnett’s last performance in Australia for the time being. Owing to the company’s diverse and exciting repertoire, Burnett is taking up a position with the Royal Ballet Flanders, in Belgium. Under the direction of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Tamas Moricz, she will join the company for the 2016-17 season. This ‘farewell’ piece felt like a fleshed out manifesto; an artist’s statement that nestles her activism and beliefs to “movement in response to sensation.”[note]Juliet Burnett, “Connection,” Dancing in a Turning World, August 15, 2015, http://www.dancinginaturningworld.com/2015/08/connection.html[/note]
Of course, it is open to other readings, ones not quite so specific to the performer. On the stage, the black cabinet roughly the size of a single bookshelf was also something of a magicians’ magic box capable of concealment and revelation. When lowered to the ground, it became a tomb, and with a pair of legs sticking out, it was also the demise of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. A large black (Pandora’s) box that moved soundlessly from left to right, following its own trajectory, it was a void that you were free to ascribe own meaning to. Sisyphus is, of course, the fate of all of us.
From Camus we ran into Albert Einstein in “Mermermer.” From the classical repertoire stored within the body we ran into ‘brain fingerprinting’ stored within memory; from the recurring motifs of the rose, veil, and dagger, to a different kind of drama. In a double bill that explored “the role of the dancing body and the imagination,”[note]Anouk van Dijk, “Note from our Artistic Director,” Next Move programme, 2016[/note] this is what collaboration is all about: two artists creating a third work not possible without the other.
Two voices in accord, not discord, true to the Latin roots of the word ‘working together’ in both “Re-make” and “Mermermer.” It was in the tender way Lane untied and removed the pointe shoes of Burnett as she lay hidden beneath layers of black tulle concealing her face. It was in the way Lane oscillated from warm prop catching a goblet tossed over the shoulder by Burnett, and their unwavering and considered awareness of each other forming a new discipline as Lane momentarily held the white wings of a sylph to Burnett’s lower back. It was in Jo Lloyd and Nicola Gunn’s work “in perpetual flux as [they found] ways to function in and negotiate the present.”[note]Jo Llyod and Nicola Gunn, Artists Statement, Next Move programme, 2016[/note] Where the upturned Romantic tutu served to make a part-stilted, part-skittering creature of legs en pointe mapping the space, in Lloyd and Gunn’s verbal and non-verbal discussion, their forms concealed beneath heavy grey mountains and their heads topped with silvered and pearlescent tinsel, they called to my mind the ritual costumes of Bulgarian kukeri.
Concealed, forms altered, everything and nothing was discussed in unison, stream of consciousness-style, making audible to the audience their shared inner thought processes. Everything from dance movements that echoed an angler’s line toss by way of Beyoncé’s innate rhythm, Tilda Swinton popping up ‘everywhere,’ the soggy displeasure of a damp sock after having wet oneself to the insufferable allure of the cannon of beautiful and intelligent twenty-year-old French actresses. Rubbing the body parts of high and low art, thoughts and trance-like action, deadpan and real, Lloyd and Gunn, as did Lane and Burnett, moved as one fabulously linked form and the results were wildly varied and visually arresting; a sort of ‘don't take yourself too seriously’ serious work ethic that I found hard to resist. As the shoe clad, Gunn,—‘but I've got my shoes on; is that okay?’—balanced on the back of Lloyd in Cat position, they slowly crawled about the room. A hybrid creature once more in synthetic spring garb and the remnants of winter's shadow mountain, a dancer and a performance artist moved and spoke as one even though their language is different. Just as Burnett enquired if Lane was ‘okay to continue,’ it was this thoughtfulness and truth I most respond to, in a me, me, me world.
But what of Einstein? His appearance, an anecdote shared in send up of one-word titled art magazines with asinine self-important aggrandizements: ‘I want to be remembered as a genius’ style quotes writ large on the page. When what really matters is the work. “Work” as Einstein wrote to his son, Hans Albert, “is the only thing that gives substance to life.” In the end, it is not the posturing that counts, but the work. Hard, dedicated, constant.
Yes, “the only way to escape the corruptible effect of praise is to go on working” and to keep pushing boulders up hills only for them to roll to the bottom again.